By now dear reader you have seen or heard of two popular culture phenomena. One is the movie, “Straight Outta Compton” that is doing incredible box office despite being in fairly limited circulation and the other is the Internet memes that have been derived from the film. I don’t want to spend time on the film that although being hailed as excellent filmmaking is dismissive of the misogyny and the truth of the documented abuse directed toward Black women that was a reality of hip hop group NWA. I also don’t want to spend any time on all of the clever, silly, and in some cases offensive memes that bear the “straight outta” insignia. I’ve made my own, “Straight Outta West Philly” meme to post on Facebook pages and laughed at clever ones like the “Straight Outta Melanin” meme featuring race imposter, Rachel Dolezal. No, instead I want to appropriate the “Straight Outta” fad to talk about what we are seeing in the political sphere.
A few weeks ago we witnessed the first Republican presidential debate. There are so many declared GOP candidates that the FOX network that sponsored the session had to break them into 2 tiers with the higher polling group being featured in prime time. I have paid attention to political information since I was about 12 years old. I listen to presidential press conferences (whether the President was someone I supported or not), I listen to political pundits, and I read political commentaries and analyses. I am drawn to politics and policies because I have seen what difference the rhetoric and implementation of same make in the lives of people. When Lyndon Johnson uttered the words, “And, we shall overcome,” it spelled a shift in the nation’s civil rights winds. When Ronald Reagan declared, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” it set a series of events into motion that reflected the movement of democracy in East Berlin. Political speech can have power and it can have meaning.
Unfortunately, at this point in the presidential election-cycle the political speech is being dominated by Donald Trump and quite frankly I find him to be “Straight Outta Commonsense!” The more frightening fact is how many Americans are energized by his foolish talk. Many years ago I remember a “60 Minutes” interview with President Jimmy and Mrs. Rosalyn Carter. The interviewer asked them a question about President Reagan but Mr. Carter, always the gentleman, refused to say anything personally negative about Mr. Reagan. But, Mrs. Carter said something profound when she said, “This President makes us comfortable with our prejudices!” In other words, under Ronald Reagan we could talk about people as “Welfare Queens” and suggest that poor people should wait for funds to “trickle down” from the wealthy. However, I don’t think Ronald Reagan was without commonsense. He was totally out of touch with the lives of everyday people and he had absolutely no clue about Black folks, but he wasn’t without commonsense.
Actually Donald Trump does not lack commonsense. Donald Trump knows EXACTLY what he is doing. He lives and works in one of the world’s most diverse cities. It is filled with Black people (from all over the world), Latinos (from all over the world), powerful and accomplished women, and language speakers from everywhere. Trump is not naïve about these differences. His many financial interests require him to employ a diverse workforce. No, it’s not Trump who is straight outta commonsense, it’s his likely constituents. Trump knows that the people who will vote for him have deep-seated and almost virulent racism and bias toward anyone who they perceive as different from them. So, Trump took a calculated gamble that suggested that people like this would be drawn to a discourse of prejudice and racist animus. Trump and his people know that such people are “straight outta commonsense.”
Trump has been so effective with this nonsense that he has drawn the entire Republican candidate field into his orbit. He knows that “his voters” are those who are weary of a Black president and any mention that “Black Lives Matter.” They do not care that Trump rarely provides one shred of evidence for his pronouncements about Mexican immigrants as rapists and thieves. They do not care that it would be virtually impossible to build a wall across the southern border and then expect Mexico to pay for it. They do not care that Trump utters nothing but contempt for women and has been disparaging to national war hero, Senator John McCain. He knows “his voters” are “Straight Outta Commonsense” and that if Black people don’t “stay woke” we may be led by a president who wants us all to be “Straight Outta Commonsense!”